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PA House and Senate Recognize Music Therapy

The Pennsylvania House and Senate last week passed resolutions recognizing music therapy as a “valid therapeutic service,” which were very welcome to the state’s 400 board-certified music therapists, who serve about 41,000 state residents each year. 

Music therapists have at least a bachelor’s degree with extensive coursework in both music and psychology. They work in medical facilities, schools and in private practice. Music therapists may co-treat with physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists or work on their own.

Dr. Nicole Hahna, assistant professor at Slippery Rock, said music therapy can be used with diagnoses such as Alzheimer’s, autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, speech and language problems, and motor difficulties. The therapist assesses the patient’s needs and musical preferences before developing a treatment plan. 

“We might use the guitar, play one of their preferred songs and slowly increase the tempo of that song, which is going to slowly increase their gait, or their walking, so without us asking them to walk faster," Hahna said. "We’re able to help motivate them to do so.”

Hahna said music therapy is not for everyone but is very helpful to some patients.  

“When we sing, we use a different part of the brain than when we’re speaking," she said. "A client is often able to sing when they’re not able to speak, so the music therapist will work with the client and help them sing and then eventually move from singing to chanting and from chanting to speaking.”

Hahna said music as healing is nothing new — every culture and age group uses music, but its clinical application began in 1950. 

“Oftentimes, the client receiving therapy doesn’t realize that they’re working on a goal," she said. "You might yourself work out or go on a treadmill or go for a walk — if you do that without music, you might sort of be looking at your watch all the time, like, 'Wow, this is taking a long time!' Whereas, if you put your headphones on and take a 30-minute walk, the time can sort of fly by.”

Three local universities grant degrees: Slippery Rock, Duquesne and Seton Hill. Insurance covers music therapy on a case-by-case, county-by-county basis.  

Hahna said the resolutions represent the first step toward legislation to establish state licensure, hopefully for 2015.

Charlee Song has been covering news for 90.5 FM since 2000—an opportunity she considers a great privilege. She finds almost every assignment interesting and really enjoys working with both the veterans and interns at WESA.